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T. Sher Singh Headshot

Who Owns God?

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Several years ago, I came across an odd story from the East Coast of Canada.

A minister in a parish in Nova Scotia belonging to the United Church Christian denomination had complained that some lackey in the government had asked her to refrain from reading from the New Testament during her blessing at a memorial marking the anniversary of a Swissair airplane tragedy.

She further claimed that she was not allowed to mention Christ during the multi-faith service.

Colleen MacDonald -- I recall her name -- was Nova Scotia's chief protocol officer, and was reported saying that such a decision, if actual, would've been made by a committee of clergy which would include a substantial, if not majority, number of Christians.

I thought it was sad. And bizarre.

Why would anybody feel threatened by Christ or by a reading from the New Testament? Both can only inspire, regardless of which religious background one belongs to.

The trick for each one of us, of course, is in personally studying our own faith and those of others, and learning to go beyond the blinders that most people of every faith nowadays put on their own eyes the very moment they turn to matters of religion.

And those who are unable to take the blinders off then end up tripping up all over the place and getting nowhere.

For example, the story of the above-described debacle in Nova Scotia was brought to my attention by a friend who is himself a member of a self-described fundamentalist sect within the Christian faith.

He was distressed by the report that a minister had not been allowed to mention Christ or read from the New Testament during a public memorial service.

Well, my friend has a short memory. Or, is it just the blinders he wears over his own eyes?

He seemed to have forgotten that the very group he belonged to was instrumental, not too long ago, in banning the United Church from a Christian Fair in Vancouver.

Why?

Because the United Church would not subscribe to the extreme, narrow and strict interpretations the fundamentalist denominations were giving to Christ and his teachings!

I fear that the intolerance shown by some Christians against other Christians may have something to do with the silliness in Nova Scotia. In its root cause, if not necessarily in the immediate goofiness that precipitated it.

Intolerance of any degree is anathema because, if ignored or encouraged, it grows with geometric progression.

This narrow-mindedness is not unique to Christians.

In Malaysia, fo example, there is an attempt afoot to make it illegal for a non-Muslim to ever use the word "Allah," even in piety.

"Allah" is but the Arabic word for God -- your God and mine, everybody's God. So now, Malaysia's Mullahs own God and get to dictate terms?

What are Sikhs to do, for example? Their religion allows -- nay, encourages -- its members to refer to God in any and every language. The Guru Granth has 1,000 terms for God, including "Allah"!

I am sad to say we Sikhs too have our fair share of boors. There are those in Amritsar who see it fit -- against every basic tenet of Sikhi -- to dare to refuse to allow women to do seva in the inner sactum sanctorum of the Harmandar Sahib. Or to do kirtan within the shrine.

Bizarre! My real surprise is that we as a community tolerate such an outrage even for a single day!

Back here in the West, there are other reasons for this kind of silliness, where a variety of religious groups claim their own brand of ownership of God.

Many church leaders tend to complicate matters or muddy the waters by interpreting "multi-faith" as meaning the opening of dialogue between Protestants and Catholics. That is, bringing together of the representatives of the myriad of Christian sects under one roof for an afternoon.

That's interfaith dialogue?

The more daring ones think that the inclusion of the Jewish community is a giant step for mankind.

Some other groups have created a new club under the title, "Abrahamanic Religions." That is, Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

That's interfaith? With nary a Sikh, Hindu or Buddhist in sight?

Others, similarly, have learnt to pay lip-service to the idea of "inter-faith dialogue" but in actual practice continue to live in the Middle Ages.

As for my friend's distress over the sad incident in Nova Scotia, I can only point to the unfortunate outcomes of the debates over Sunday and the Lord's Prayer in recent years.

I feel compelled to remind him that the loss of Sunday as a day of rest and the removal of the Lord's Prayer from the public forum, were not at the behest of non-Christian faiths.

Both situations arose from the rigidity of a few fundamentalist Christian groups who refused to accommodate the inclusion of observances of all faiths in a multi-faith society. It was that intransigency that led to the dilution of faith observances in our lives. The laws of this land, in their objectivity and sense of fairness, had no choice but to rule that no observance is preferable to selective observance, especially when the latter pointedly rejects the rights of others.

I, for one, would welcome some prayer, any prayer, even the Lord's Prayer -- a Christian observance -- in preference to NO prayer.

After all, my father sent my siblings and I to Christian schools, feeling no threat from an alien faith.

And when it was my turn, it took no bravery or risk on my part to send my daughter, on her consent and mine, first to a Catholic school, and then an Anglican school, at substantial financial cost to us.

In each case, in preference to the antiseptic public system. My father and I had simply chosen better schools for our children, that's all.

All I can say to my friend is this: Closed minds can do much harm to us all.

Let's open them -- so that God can enter.